Over the past couple of days the Christian blogosphere has been buzzing about a book that has yet to be published either here or in the US: Rob Bell’s new work, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived”. Publication date seems to be either 29th or 31st March, maybe depending on which continent you inhabit. In the absence of an actual book to review, many commentators have posted thoughts either about this publicity trailer or else about hell and universalism, the presumed subject of the book. The following is a publicity quote from the vimeo site hosting the trailer:
Rob Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing, would a loving God send people to eternal torment forever…? With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly hopeful—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.
At this stage no one can be sure exactly what conclusion (if any) Rob Bell will come to in his book. As others have pointed out, Rob has a tendency to ask questions without necessarily supplying neat answers (I seem to remember someone else doing that regularly – now who was it?).
Nevertheless, as many others have done, Tree wanted to express a couple of thoughts about hell and universalism.
Firstly, attractive though the idea of a universe without hell may seem at first glance, I believe it fails to do justice to human free will. For the Calvinist this is no problem, since our wills are not technically “free” (but atonement is also limited, so hell must exist and most people will, on this view, go there). For the rest of us, though, it leaves us with a coercive God who, though seemingly allowing us to make choices of our own volition, ultimately enforces his will against ours. Whilst it may be true that ultimately “love wins” there must be at least the possibility that it may not.
Secondly, how does universalism square with the justice of God? It is clear that, in this life at any rate, there is much injustice that remains unaddressed. One of the reasons that I am more comfortable than many seem to be with the idea of penal substitutionary atonement (at least in some form) is that it addresses the issue of unresolved injustice and sin in the world. Of course it is only one analogy or model among several to explain how the death and resurrection of Christ bring about human salvation, but I feel it has more to offer than those who caricature and dismiss it as “cosmic child abuse” give it credit for.
In short, I believe the possibility of hell exists (though I am agnostic on the definition). I believe there is a possibility that people will go there. As to whether anyone actually does, I am happy (and rather relieved) to leave this in the hands of God who is both ultimate justice and ultimate love.
And I really look forward to finding exactly what Rob has written later this month. Expect more posts on this subject then.